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The EU’s response since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has included several rounds of sanctions against Russia, as well as military assistance and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The EU has also granted temporary protection for Ukrainians and third country nationals fleeing the conflict, and has discussed plans to end the dependence of some Member States on Russian energy.

The EU-Ukraine association agreement

The EU and Ukraine have an association agreement, in force since 2016. The agreement provides a framework for the convergence of Ukraine with the EU in the political, economic and legal spheres.

In 2013, then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, said he would not be signing the association agreement. Yanukovych, who was viewed as close to Russia, cited Russian opposition to the agreement. President Yanukovych’s decision led to a wave of mass protests and a violent response from the Government. He was removed from office by the Ukrainian Parliament in February 2014 and fled to Russia. A new government then signed the agreement with the EU.

EU response to the Russian annexation of Crimea

Shortly after President Yanukovych was forced out of office, Russia moved to occupy Crimea. This was followed by protests by pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine, with parts of this region coming under their control in April 2014.

The EU condemned Russian actions, describing the action in Crimea as illegal and called on Russia to withdraw. Russia’s involvement in the then G8 was ended and the EU said it was suspending further talks on a new co-operation agreement.

The EU imposed sanctions against officials involved in the actions in Ukraine. This involved travel bans and asset freezes. The EU also adopted sanctions against Russia in July 2014. These included a ban on the import and export of arms and related material and a ban on the export of dual use goods for military users. There were also restrictions on exports of energy-related equipment and technology.  These sanctions have remained in force since 2014

EU response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. The European Council (the heads of state or government of the 27 EU Member States) statement on the same day said Russia was “grossly violating international law” and that the EU would “impose massive and severe consequences on Russia for its action”.

EU Sanctions against Russia

Sanctions have been coordinated with the USA, UK and other allies. New sanctions had already been imposed on Russia on 22 February, after President Putin had signed the order recognising the self-declared independent republics in the Donbas region. Further sanctions were announced on 25 February, and these were expanded again on 28 February, 2 March and 15 March.

The list of individuals and entities subject to an asset freeze and travel ban has been progressively expanded to include President Putin, Government Ministers, all members of the Russian Parliament and various business people.

Financial sanctions have included:

  • denying Russian banks access to EU financial markets and banning transactions with the Russian Central Bank;
  • freezing assets of some Russian banks;
  • banning Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system for financial transactions.

 Other sanctions have included:

  • a ban on Russian air carriers and other Russian registered or owned aircraft EU landing, taking off or flying over EU territories;
  • a ban on broadcasting by the Russian state-owned media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik;
  • a ban on transactions with certain state-owned companies;
  • a ban on EU exports of goods relating to the oil refining sector, and the aviation and space industry (including aircraft);
  • trade restrictionson iron and steel, and luxury goods.

Following an agreement among G7 countries, the EU also announced on 15 March that there would be action to deny Russian products and services “most favoured nation treatment” in EU markets. Belarus’ accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) would also be blocked.

Sanctions against Belarus

Sanctions have also been placed on Belarus, for its role in supporting the Russian aggression against Ukraine. This includes restrictions on the use of SWIFT services for three Belarus banks and other financial sanctions. Members of the Belarus’ military are on the list of individuals subject to sanctions.

Ending EU reliance on Russian energy

On 8 March, the European Commission announced an outline for a plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels before 2030. The Commission also outlined measures to respond to rising energy prices in Europe and to replenish gas stocks for the next winter. The Commission said this could reduce EU demand for Russian gas by two thirds before the end of the year.

The EU imports 90% of its gas consumption, of which Russia provides around 45%. Russia also accounts for around 25% of oil imports and 45% of coal imports. Some Member States have proposed a ban on energy imports from Russia. Other States, such as Germany, are reluctant to go this far given high levels of dependency on these imports. The German government has however announced that it will not allow the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany to begin operation.

Versailles summit, 10-11 March 2022

The leaders of the EU Member States met in Versailles on 10 and 11 March. They adopted a declaration describing Russia’s “war of aggression” as constituting a “tectonic shift in European history”. It said that the EU had decided to “take more responsibility for our security and take further decisive steps towards building our European sovereignty”. The declaration made various commitments aimed at:

  • bolstering the EU’s defence capabilities;
  • reducing energy dependencies;
  • building a more robust economic base.

Proposals would be developed further by the European Commission and Member States.

EU support for Ukraine

Military assistance

The EU announced on 28 February 2022 it would finance the purchase and delivery of lethal military equipment to Ukraine. This would be the first time the EU had provided lethal equipment to a third country. €450 million was allocated under the European Peace Facility for this. €50 million was allocated for non-lethal supplies.

On 21 March, EU foreign ministers agreed an additional €500 million would be allocated under the European Peace Facility.

Temporary Protection to people fleeing Ukraine

On 4 March, the EU adopted legislation providing for temporary protection for persons fleeing Ukraine. This applies to Ukrainian nationals, and their family members, if they resided in Ukraine on or before 24 February 2022. It will also apply to third country nationals or stateless persons benefiting from international protection in Ukraine, and their family members.  

Temporary protection will be granted for up to three years. The scheme could end earlier if the Council of the EU decides it is safe to return to Ukraine. People fleeing Ukraine will have rights of residence, access to the labour market and housing, medical assistance, and access to education for children in the Member State they go to. The EU will coordinate assistance and provide funding for the host Member States.

Humanitarian and economic support

The European Commission announced an emergency support package of €500 million for those affected by the conflict in Ukraine on 1 March 2022. Supplies delivered through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism by EU Member States are estimated to be worth an additional €100 million.  Humanitarian aid has gone to Ukraine and to the neighbouring countries receiving people fleeing from Ukraine.  

On 1 February 2022, the European Commission announced a €1.2 billion emergency Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA) loan programme to Ukraine. Half of this was expected to be delivered by March. €5 billion of MFA loans had already been provided in the period 2014-2021. Some funds had been withheld as they had been contingent on reforms being undertaken in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s application to join the EU

Ukraine submitted an application to join the EU on 28 February 2022. President Zelenskyy asked for immediate Ukrainian membership of the EU, proposing this be done under “a new special procedure”.  

EU leaders declared at Versailles on 10-11 March that “Ukraine belongs to our European family” and that the EU would deepen its partnership with Ukraine.  The Council of the EU has asked the European Commission to submit its opinion on Ukraine’s application (as well as on application made by Moldova and Georgia at the beginning of March).

Several EU Member States from the former Soviet bloc have called for the EU to begin the process of Ukraine’s accession to the EU swiftly. However, other Member States have adopted a cautious tone and have pointed to the lengthy process for accession.

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